Richard III dramatizes events that occurred between 1471 and by wuj11310


									Richard III
By William Shakespeare
Produced by The Shakespeare Theatre, Washington, D.C.
Directed by Gale Edwards
2002-2003 Season
Program Note
                      The Seductive Quality of Evil

Shakespeare’s Richard III dramatizes events that occurred between 1471 and
1485 beginning with the coronation of Edward IV and ending with Henry
Tudor’s victory at Bosworth. The play dramatically compresses these
events, focusing upon the murderous actions of Richard as he seizes the
throne and ultimately loses it.

Based upon accounts in Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard The
Third (1513) and Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577), Richard III is
obviously a biased account of English history that trumpets a Tudor version
of events. Literary critics and historians have long debated the accuracy of
the play, but in doing so miss its point. The work is not a historical treatise,
but a play about a larger-than-life figure that haunts our collective
imagination. The body count mounts steadily during the course of the play
as Richard kills his brother, his nephews, his wife, and a host of enemies.
He is by any measure a vicious mass murderer yet as Richard spins his webs
that ensnare his enemies, he simultaneously magnetizes the audience,
making us complicit with his actions and daring us to look away. The
enduring success of the play is testament to the seductive quality of evil. We
may find the actions of Richard reprehensible but we secretly cheer him on
deriving joy in the genius of his machinations. Finally, however, we are
able to sleep at night: we forgive ourselves for enjoying the play because
Richard gets his comeuppance in the end.

Richard III was written in 1592 and was a huge success for its young and
relatively inexperienced author. The play marked a turning point in
Shakespeare’s career and in the development of Elizabethan drama. Prior to
writing it, he had composed only two minor comedies—Love’s Labor’s Lost
and The Comedy of Errors—as well as a long, disjointed trilogy about the
failed monarchy of Henry VI. Shakespeare had attracted a modicum of
attention with these plays, but had not yet achieved great acclaim. Richard
III was his breakthrough play, and it was revised and reprinted repeatedly
during his lifetime. The eight existing quarto versions are evidence that it
was wildly popular among his audience.

Shakespeare labored at this point in his career in the shadow of the true
wunderkind of Elizabethan theater, Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe had
established himself as the premier author of that period, having notched
great success with Dr. Faustus, The Jew of Malta and Tamburlaine.
Marlowe’s plays always featured sadistic, violent villains who captured the
imagination of Elizabethan audiences weaned on late 15th-century and mid
16th-century morality plays. Morality plays, as the name suggests, were
intended to entertain and educate through illustrating moral exemplars by
allegorical means. They were basically dramatized sermons that provided
clear, easily digested moral messages. Characters such as Mankind or
Everyman confronted evil figures that sought to lead them astray and snatch
their eternal souls for the devil. The Vice became the most popular of these
villains, a comic character that used subterfuge and slapstick to win over his
hapless victims. Marlowe transformed The Vice figure into a potent
dramatic force who gleefully and sadistically wrought destruction.

In Richard III Shakespeare took The Vice to a more sophisticated level by
combining this easily identifiable type with Classical and Renaissance
models. Richard becomes a tragic figure who is destined, or condemned, to
fulfill a great historical drama: not of his own creation; the resolution of the
War of the Roses and the establishment of the Tudor monarchical line. The
great crime of regicide promulgated upon the Lancastrian monarch Richard
II in 1399 disturbed the very fiber of nature and ultimately set in motion all
that occurred. The successes of Henry IV and Henry V were merely
interludes before the failed monarchy of Henry VI led to the events that are
dramatized in Richard III. Richard becomes a vessel of historical necessity
whose evil actions are required to wrought divine retribution upon the House
of York.

Though Richard III may be a tragic figure, he is not Oedipus Tyrannus. He
is a thoroughly modern political man, a “Machiavel”—a clever politician
who uses deception to mislead, seduce, and ultimately destroy his victims.
Richard is a comic devil who makes us laugh as he prances about the stage
pulling off the most outrageous feats. He winks at the audience as he lies to
the fools around him. He switches characters in the blink of an eye to play
upon their weaknesses: In turn, he becomes the loyal brother, the ardent
lover, the peacemaker, the faithful subject, the kindly uncle, the religious
acolyte and the sensible ruler. Yet at the core he remains a killer who
believes in nothing and is loyal to nothing but his own will to power.
Shakespeare’s final great triumph in Richard III is his creation of a
believable psychology to underpin the evil of the title character. Richard is a
fearsome, respected warrior who plays an integral role in garnering the
throne for his brother and in maintaining his kingdom. He is a man among
men during times of war and periods of civil strife, but in peacetime he is
less than nothing. Physically deformed, lacking social graces, unloved by
his mother, he is a completely alienated figure who is unable to function in
normal society. Richard’s only pleasure is the sadistic one he derives from
creating terror, particularly among women. He revels in the sadomasochistic
seduction, of Anne, whose husband he has murdered, and takes great
pleasure in convincing his sister-in-law Elizabeth to give him her daughter in
marriage. As the true horror of Richard’s character shines forth brightly in
these scenes, the audience watches in utter disbelief, unable to look away for
an instant.

Richard III is one of the most compelling characters in all of Western drama.
Shakespeare would later create variants upon him in plays such as King
Lear, Macbeth and Othello; numerous other authors have sought to emulate
him (e.g. Thomas Harris in the Hannibal Lecter novels). But Richard
remains the granddaddy of them all—the essence of unmitigated evil
presented for your pleasure.

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